I almost always enjoy writing, but there are times when I really appreciate being a journalist. Case in point: the dedication of Walt Disney World Resort’s newest roller coaster, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Late last month, I was one of about two hundred fifty journalists who had the opportunity to test out the coaster before it opened to the public.
We gathered in the early morning just as the Florida sun was starting to pop up over the horizon in New Fantasyland. In the distance I could see all the guys – Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey, and Happy making their way to the stage. They skipped, shuffled, and labored (yes, depending on which dwarf you were watching) up the steps to their spot flanking Snow White and Tom Staggs, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
We had already tried the new familyfriendly coaster the night before. The smooth ride is the result of a new engineering concept featuring first-of-its-kind ride vehicles that swing back and forth during the approximately two-and-a-half minute trip through and around the mine. Walt Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty laughs when he remembers the concept and design phase of the ride. One day his colleagues asked him to come to the parking lot outside of his office. They showed him a plywood bucket attached to the back of a pickup truck and asked him to jump aboard. “We spent a lot of time in that plywood bucket,” Beatty said.
The company parking lot was in full view of the passing metro train that sped by every ten minutes. “People in the metro were looking out and I’m sure they were saying look at those idiots,” Beatty said with a smile. “We learned a lot from that bucket.”
The parking lot bucket morphed into the ride’s moving mine cars, which look similar to the handmade, wooden cars in the original film that the Dwarfs shaped with an ax. They sit in a cradle design that allows them to rock back and forth as you twist and turn through the mine. And while the ride is great fun, it’s the amazing audioanimatronics in the mine that bring those lovable Dwarfs to life. “This is one of the first times you are seeing the real animation of the animator coming to life,” Beatty said.
The cottage where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs live appears at the end of the ride and it’s as close to the film version as it gets. The intricate details in the cottage, from the shape of a lantern to the slope of the roof’s eaves, mimic the original drawings. One of the last images you see is the witch with her basket of apples peeking through the window of the cottage watching the interaction between Snow White and the Dwarfs. “That’s a surprising touch,” Beatty said.
The ride is the last jewel – and by the way, you will find many of those in the mine as well – in the New Fantasyland crown. It sits not too far away from my favorite attraction, Enchanted Tales with Belle, a fascinating interactive storytelling experience. In fact, Disney Imagineers used the same technology that brings Lumiere to life in Enchanted Tales to animate the Dwarfs for this new coaster. “We knew we were on to something unique and different with Belle,” Beatty said of the show. “There is a connection with the character that makes you feel like no one else is in the room.”
Like they do with most new attractions, Disney brings in an audience to provide their opinions before shows open to the public. The test for Enchanted Tales with Belle was one of the “most successful in our company,” Beatty said. “It’s a different show every time you come back. We take pride in that attraction. I stand in it and cry. It’s all about the story and the heart and that is who we are.” And interestingly, that’s also what draws me to visit Disney over and over again, more than twenty times in my lifetime.
While it is all the chatter now on social media, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train isn’t the only new attraction at Magic Kingdom. Disney also introduced the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade this spring. This colorful, fun-filled parade features Disney characters from more than a dozen fairytales, with everything from Peter Pan to Frozen. It has whimsy – think sassy bubble girls with cotton-candy hair – and lurking danger in the form of the fire-breathing Maleficent dragon. “I wouldn’t refer to her as a float,” said Randy Wojcik, the parade’s show director. “She is a creature. We wanted to create something really unique and different.”
he Disney Creative Entertainment team partnered with Tony Award-winning designer Michael Curry on the development of Maleficent. As a side note, Disney recently released its new feature film Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie.
The parade’s Maleficent stretches fiftythree feet in length and stands twenty-six feet tall. The character was built on a rotating chassis system that allows the float to bend and flex as it moves along the parade route. “This is the first time [the system] has been implemented in a parade with a float,” Wojcik said.
The costumes in the parade have some of the most elaborate designs in the Disney parks history. “It’s visually stunning, like mini-Broadway shows rolling down the street,” Wojcik said.
Disney used a new technology that allowed the design team to design and print custom fabrics in-house. It took thirty yards of fabric, for example, to make one Seashell Girl costume which includes twelve different colors of Nitex mesh. Their headpieces were digitally sculpted and then grown to size with a 3D printer.
The creativity at Disney doesn’t stop with the parade. The Resort is also adding some pixie dust to the entire guest experience through MyMagic+, a customer service program to make your family’s trip more customized than in the past. For example, I was able to go into the new web site MyDisneyExperience.com and lock in my hotel, dining reservations, and FastPass+ selections early in the planning stages. You can select up to three FastPass+ experiences at one park per day for each day you have park admission. I just can’t imagine a trip to Disney without at least one opportunity to play Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios so that was first on my list of FastPass options.
“The FastPass is the genesis for MyMagic+,” said Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “We have more than doubled the number of Fastpass attractions. We’ve added fireworks and special viewing areas for parades as well as meet and greets with the characters.”
MyDisneyExperience.com also includes interactive maps and videos that will tell you what you will find near the attractions and Dining choices you have made. That’s got to be a great resource when you’re trying to schedule enough time to get from point A to point B to keep child one content before child two needs a snack.
The third feature of MyMagic+ is the new MagicBand that you will use during your visit. The wristbands – they come in a variety of colors and you can choose your color before you arrive – are an all-in-one device that serves as your room key, park admission, access to FastPass+ experiences and also Disney PhotoPass or the new Memory Maker. Memory Maker gives you the opportunity to pay either $149 before you arrive or $199 afterward for all photos taken of you during your stay – at the parks, at dinner, and on the rides.
It’s taken a while for Disney to change over more than 28,000 hotel door locks so they accommodate the Mickey-to-Mickey touch pad on the lock. “We’ve also trained 70,000 cast members on the system,” said Staggs.
MagicBands are mailed to you well ahead of your departure date if you order them in time. If not, they will be waiting for you at your Disney Resort hotel. Day guests don’t have to purchase a band unless they want to.
If you’re thinking itchy wrist syndrome, don’t give it another thought. The bands, which are not GPS-based, are made of non-latex, hypoallergenic material that is flexible, durable, and waterproof. And they are comfortable. You actually forget you have one on. The bands come in pink (the most popular color), blue, red, green, orange, and grey and they can be accessorized. You can add all types of bling as well as a variety of glow-in-the-dark accessories or your favorite villains, if you like. There is even a package of accessories for the new bride and groom as well as Waterproof cover bands with various prints on them. Definitely lots to choose from.
I was worried about losing the band (as I’m sure lots of parents would be!) But if it is lost or stolen, it can be disabled so that no one can charge on it or steal my information. Your personal information is not stored on the MagicBand. It contains only a randomly assigned code that securely links to an encrypted database.
The bands will include a variety of experiences at Disney such as Harambe Nights, a new theatrical production based on the “The Lion King” that includes a street party with gourmet dining. The experience, which starts this month in Animal Kingdom and runs through early August, celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Oscar-winning movie. The 55-minute theatrical show, “The Lion King Concert in the Wild,” will have celebrity narrators, a live orchestra, choir, and special effects that tell the story of Simba’s coming of age. A welcome reception and post-show street party feature Afro-pop rhythms, performers, and a grand buffet. You will pay an extra fee just like you do for the offerings during holidays. Tickets for ages ten and up will cost $119 and $79 for ages nine and under.
And that’s just the beginning when it comes to new offerings at Disney. Here’s a peek at what’s in store. In the next few years Downtown Disney will transform into Disney Springs with a new look, new restaurants, and new entertainment. One thing that I’m looking forward to is the new Avatar-themed land in Animal Kingdom, which they tell me will be mind-blowing. The only problem is that I have to wait until 2017 when it’s unveiled. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another sneak peek before opening day. Stay tuned.